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Rodizio Grill needs to tighten its twirl

Unfortunately, the salad-bar carnage was maintained once the skewers started piercing this dining tragedy. My father, who accompanied me on my Rodizio excursions, is a shameless and incontrovertible carnivore. To him, plant life is for oxygen, meat is for food. And that meat must be red. Chickens are little more than tumbleweeds on stilts with a peculiar penchant for barking at the rising sun. Fish keep the all-important boat industry afloat. His lust isn't complicated. Spam seared in butter-flavored Pam would stir his heart nearly as much as a perfectly grilled T-bone.

But even he was aghast at what was cut and clumsily peeled from Rodizio's skewers. Coils of sausage were bland on one visit and sharply sour on another, leading us to ponder the possibility of a bungled marinade or the horror of an over-the-hill Brazilian weenie. Cupim, a "Rodizio exclusive" carved from the shoulder of the steer, was like hemp rope dipped in 40-weight on the first try and a graying bland blubber bulb on the second.

The menu boasts that coxa, a chicken drumstick marinated in European and Brazilian seasonings, is so tender it practically falls of the bones. Actually, it was more like the aforementioned hemp rope without the 40-weight dip, making it resemble the bone from which it purportedly loses its grip.

But I'm being unfair. There were some things here that were good. It's just that by the time you get to them, your appetite has long since wished it could converse about bathroom tissue in perfect Portuguese. Ham glazed in brown sugar was tasty, if a little dry. Top sirloin was oozy, rich and well-seasoned. Picanah, a cap of sirloin with garlic and Parmesan cheese, was better than most versions of this preparation I've tasted in Dallas. But these meaty bits offered little consolation to what was otherwise a churrascarias catclysm.

Planted in what used to be East Side Mario's restaurant on Cooper Street at Interstate 20, Rodizio is a casual, almost randomly assembled space. Painted concrete floors and a mustard-washed ceiling with exposed ducts, steel beams, and wood planks give it church-basement feel. A wall of paned windows separates the dining room from the bar, a handsome, cozy space--far more than the dining room, at least, because food isn't the only discomfort here. Tables lining the wall separate the bar from the dining room and have these abnormally large round bases that seem to reach beyond the tabletops, making it impossible to pull your chair completely up to them. You end up eating your meal at an angle, creating a sizable gap for skewer fragments to collect in your lap.

Based in Littleton, Colorado, Rodizio was launched by Ivan Utrera, a former Pizza Hut marketing executive in Latin America and Stephen Oldham, a onetime Pepsico number-cruncher. They operate three Rodizios in Colorado, one in Dallas, and one that recently opened in Salt Lake City. With plans to open restaurants in Houston and North Dallas in the near future, the pair boasts they will operate 100 Rodizio Grills across the United States within a decade.

They dub their restaurant the "steak evolution," which means, according to Utrera, that instead of ordering a steak at a steakhouse and gnawing on the same taste profile for a whole meal, Rodizio gives you a whole rainbow of grilled meat flavors in smaller portions, in one meal.

As I write this, Rodizio is dropping its prices: from $16.95 to $14.95 for the full Rodizio experience, which includes unlimited salad bar and grilled meats, and a sampler which is unlimited salad bar and 10 ounces of any two meats for $11.95. This is significantly less than either Texas de Brazil or Fogo de Chao, churrascarias that charge around $30 for the same experience.

Yet perhaps Consumer Reports' evaluation of the Yugo when it first hit our shores applies to this culinary experience: "unsafe at any price."

Rodizio Grill, 4040 Cooper St. at I-20, Arlington. (817) 417-7600. Open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. $

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